Bani Zeid
Syrian army soldiers patrol the area around the entrance of Bani Zeid after taking control of the previously rebel-held district of Leramun, on the northwest outskirts of Aleppo. George Ourfalian/ AFP

Since 2014, the UN has been operating in northwest Syria, providing people with life-saving humanitarian assistance and essential resources like shelter items, medicines, food, and water.

Two weeks ago, Russia vetoed the nine-year-old UN mandate that allows for the distribution of support and resources to the 4.1 million people in the region.

At a UN Security Council meeting, Ambassador Barbara Woodward declared: "Those 4.1 million people are now living in a limbo, not knowing if food and medicines will reach them in the coming weeks and months."

"In those two weeks, as we've heard, not a single truck has crossed the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, where 85 per cent of UN assistance previously transited. Not one truck," she added.

A representative of the Russian Federation called the UN's call for cross-border authorisation "hypocritical Western propaganda" and noted that without a UN contract renewal, the Syrian people would not suffer.

The northwest of Syria, which includes cities like Idlib and Aleppo, is an active conflict zone and according to the Council on Foreign Relations is considered rebel-held territory. The brutality of Assad's regime and Russia continuing to launch attacks means that civilians are consistently caught in the crossfire.

While working as a trauma surgeon in Aleppo, David Nott noted that President Bashar al-Assad's regime would use snipers to harm civilians who were attempting to get food and resources from rebel-held territories in northwest Syria.

David Nott recalled that a "surgeon told me that he'd heard that the snipers were playing a game: they were being given rewards, such as packs of cigarettes, for scoring hits on specific parts of the anatomy".

After being prohibited from entering the Bab Al-Hawa crossing, the UN is forced to enter Syria via the Bab Al-Salam and Bab Al Ra'ee crossings. These crossings are only open for the remaining 21 days and are not to the same standards as the original Bab Al-Hawa crossing, which allowed for several UN trucks to enter each day.

A Syrian activist reveals that the Bab al-Hawa border crossing was closed to humanitarian aid workers following the earthquake.

According to Ambassador Barbara Woodward, in contrast to when she witnessed 60 trucks cross into Syria on the 8th of June, the UN were only able to get 18 trucks across in the last week.

President Bashar al-Assad has proposed a set of conditions to the UN if they are to continue providing aid to people in northwest Syria.

On behalf of the UN, Ambassador Barbara Woodward argued: "Although Syria says they have given the UN permission, the conditions that Assad has set out make it unsafe to do so... the UN has been clear that the conditions Syria has set out are inoperable and unworkable."

Between 15 and 17 July, it was reported that extreme heat conditions caused more than 40 fires in Syria. The UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (UNOCHA) has also recently reported that there are 2.9 million internally displaced people in the northwest region of Syria, with 2 million of those people living in camps.

In addition to the constant conflict forcing people from their homes, the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Turkey and northwest Syria in February 2023 also caused a huge displacement crisis in the region.

Recently, authorities in Lebanon and Turkey announced that they would be both forcibly and voluntarily sending Syrian refugees back to their homeland. In 2023, the Turkish government launched the construction of nearly 250,000 houses for returning refugees in rebel-held territories in northern Syria.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also recently announced that anyone who has fled to the UK for safety will be immediately removed to a safe country, or sent back to their homeland. This announcement comes after the Illegal Migration Bill changed the law to make it "unambiguously clear that, if you enter the UK illegally, you should not be able to remain here".

In a recent report, Amnesty International said: "No part of Syria is safe for returnees to go back to", and it would be like "leading them to their death."